On March 2, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director, John Morton, issued a memorandum that drew applause in some quarters and criticism in others, as he announced that his agency would only enforce the law against undocumented migrants who “pose a danger to national security or are a risk to public safety” and others who are fugitives or “otherwise obstruct immigration controls.”
In June of the same year, he also wrote to agents to “exercise all appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis when making detention and enforcement decisions in the cases of victims of crimes, witnesses to crimes, and individuals pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints.” He also urged ‘prosecutorial discretion’ when deciding whom to stop, question, or to arrest for being unlawfully in the country; deciding whom to detain or release; settling or dismissing a proceeding; and executing a removal order.
According to Morton, appropriate factors to consider when exercising prosecutorial discretion should include: the migrant’s length of presence in the U.S.; whether he/she came as a young child; their pursuit of education in the U.S. , with particular consideration to those who have graduated from a U.S. high school or are pursuing a college or advanced degree; whether the migrant or their immediate relative has served in the U.S. military; their criminal history; and ties and contributions to the community.
Yet, over a year later, immigration lawyers say the government is not following through on its directive and instead moving quicker to deportation proceedings.
Attorneys say the memo has had little – if any – effect on the immigrants they represent before immigration judges and even though some of their clients fall under the criteria outlined in the memo, they still being placed in deportation proceedings.
Immigration courts, which are overseen by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, handle immigration cases not already decided by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
“I think it would be fair to say that the immigration bar is not seeing the results of the Morton memo on pending court cases,” Laura Lichter, the president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association told the Texas Tribune. “We believe that the cases that are remaining in immigration proceedings still do not accurately reflect what should be priority cases.”
But the USICE has defended the claims, saying the agency regularly deports immigrants through “voluntary, administrative, expedited and stipulated removals, as well as the reinstatement of previous removal orders.”
In 2011, ICE removed 216,000 convicted criminals who were undocumented immigrants, an increase of almost 100 percent over 2008, when 114,415 criminal immigrants were removed, USICE statistics show.
Unfortunately, the statistics do not take in to account the thousands whose only crime is coming to the U.S. and living here in an undocumented capacity, who are waiting a decision on their case.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, a data research and distribution organization at the University of Syracuse, shows that through June 2012 more than 314,000 cases awaiting a resolution nationally. That’s a 5.6 percent increase from 2011 and a 20 percent increase from 2010.
The reality is that the USICE has a lot on their hands daily and policy changes like the Morton memo, while good, trigger court backlogs and lead to little relief for the immigrants that are intended to benefit. It is time to get immigration judges up to speed on these policy changes and add more to help clear the backlog or else this will be nothing but a colossal waste of time.
The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.